In this age of digitalisation, the way we work and learn has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent social distancing measures implemented by the government have necessitated the transition from in-person education to remote learning, not only for schools but for training providers who wish to establish business continuity. Some may already have distance learning infrastructure in place; others may have to tailor courses designed for a physical classroom to suit online platforms. As we enter into this new learning territory, a systematic and structured approach is needed to ensure efficacy and that all segments are able to cope well with the transition to remote learning.
The segment of learners who are often overlooked yet require more attention when it comes to remote learning are our working older workers. They are likely to take longer to adjust compared to the younger demographic, who have grown up immersed in the digital age. The lack of social connection, on top of unfamiliar technology, can be overwhelming and may pose a barrier to learning. How then can we encourage working older workers to take up remote learning and improve their learning experience?
Firstly, we have to look at logistics, as remote learning is primarily dependent on access to computers and the internet. For students who had undergone home-based learning, the Ministry of Education provided support in the form of loaning out devices, including laptops and tablets, and dongles for those who do not have internet access at home. Low-income families could also apply for subsidised computers and free broadband. However, such systems are not in place for working older workers who may not have access to computers and wifi. Should the same level of support be extended to these older workers as well? Without the immediate presence of a central body to tackle this, would employers ensure that older workers are adequately equipped with the requisite technology for home-based learning.
2. Centralised Support System
A centralised support system would aid training providers in establishing delivery framework and standards. In light of shifting courses online, most of the stakeholders, from trainers to training providers, would need to respond creatively to teach older workers to the best of their ability. What methods work best for older workers will differ by courses and the technology available. Having a proactive, centralised support centre could help training providers to scale, actively outreach and promote remote learning.
3. Ensuring connectivity and engagement
For many older workers, the value of learning is not derived solely from theoretical academic coursework, but also from the interaction and engagement with peers in the classroom. As we move toward remote learning, we will have to think how to get our older workers to familiarise themselves with virtual spaces in lieu of physical ones and enable the this community to continue to connect within these spaces. We would need resources to create this kind of online environment, with live staff and consistent hours, to ensure effective engagement and an interactive learning experience.
4. Investing in cyber security and other capabilities
Rushed efforts to move learning online in the midst of the pandemic may have inadvertently left institutions vulnerable to unprecedented cyber threats. At the start of home-based learning for Singapore students, hackers managed to hijack the streaming of a lesson on video conferencing platform Zoom to show obscene pictures to some students. Hence, we need to close the gaps to ensure enhanced security and data privacy, to give older workers the confidence to participate in remote learning.
Many of the smaller training providers may not possess the technical expertise when it comes to implementing safe remote-learning protocols, including scaling virtual private networks (VPN) for data transmissions, multi-factor authentication and limiting access for learning applications. This is on top of enforcing up-to-date antivirus software and ensuring adequate cloud storage for recorded courses. We need to invest in cyber security to ensure a secure learning environment. We also need to invest in other capabilities to refine courses for the online format, as well as test new technologies to meet specialised needs.
The forced and abrupt move to remote learning has not been an easy transition. In addition to establishing a conducive environment and competent systems, perhaps the mindset of older workers also needs to change, as many may be resistant to the idea of remote learning. However, the ongoing situation has shown that remote learning and telecommuting may be the new norm moving forward, as businesses strive to balance continuity with a safe environment. In the future, more and more organisations may turn to remote learning or training, even after the pandemic resolves.
We look forward for support from the relevant authorities like SSG and C3A, to help create a positive remote learning culture not just for young but also our older workers too.